Wednesday, January 28, 2015

It's Going to be a Good Year!

            Here it is in late January 2015.  And God has finally broken through the funk that I’ve
been in.  It’s not that everything in my life is just the way I want it.  In fact, all of the things that discouraged me are still there.  Nothing has really changed.  Nothing except my heart and outlook.  I know that I’ll always have to deal with these funky times while I live in a fallen world.  But I am learning to take it a step at a time.  To embrace the season that I am in and to find God there. 
            I have a picture of a winter’s scene in my kitchen.  It is dusk in that picture and there is a quiet little stream running down the middle with banks piled high with snow.  It is calm and peaceful and beautiful.  And to this picture I attached a phrase from the movie “God’s Not Dead”:
                        “God is good . . . all the time
                        And all the time . . . God is good!”

            I love the way this phrase goes with the picture.  I love it that even in the cold, dark, lonely, “winter nights” of the soul, God is still good.  Isn’t this when we need to be reminded of that most? 
            It is an amazing thing to find His goodness on those winter nights.  Because if you can find Him there – if you can find His goodness and peace and joy and love when nothing in your life seems to be going your way - then you can find Him anywhere.  You can be at peace in any circumstances when you’ve learned to find Him in the hard ones. 

            I don’t want to wait until things go my way before I really live and feel peaceful, thankful, and joyful.  Because life so seldomly goes exactly the way we want.  And if we need temporary pleasures and success to feel content then that contentment will just be temporary, based on a fleeting good feeling.  But if we can find our true contentment in the Lord, even when things aren't going our way, then no disappointment can take that away.  I want to be able to rest in Him and know His goodness and love in the deep, dark winter.  In the pain, the struggle, and the hard seasons of life.  And that is what I am learning.  And I am finding myself so thankful for the pain and the hard seasons because they have helped me experience His goodness in a whole different way than we experience in the good, summery times.   
            Anyway, for me, there are a few things that have helped me get out of this funk, a few things that helped me find Him even while it is still winter in my heart. 
            1.  I am re-embracing the season of life I am in, learning to embrace and fully live today.  Because it’s all we really have.  We are not guaranteed tomorrow.  We are not guaranteed a future.  (So why do I waste so much time worrying about it?)  But we do have today to make a difference, to enjoy, to share with others, to bring God glory, and to know His goodness and love.  Always and only today! 
            2.  I have found comfort in the strong conviction that certain decisions I have made are the right ones before God, no matter the work involved or self-doubt or feelings of failure.  If I know that God is leading me down this path - that I have followed when He has led, obeyed when He has instructed - then I can be confident that He will use it for His purposes and work it out, despite my fears and inadequacies. 
            3.  Sometimes, God asks you to let a dream die so that its hold over you is broken and so that it doesn't become an idol.  And while this hurts, there is such freedom and peace when you finally let it go.
            After sharing my blog address with someone I know (which I promised myself I wouldn't do again because it's humiliating), I realized that I was finally at peace with whatever happens.  For the first time, I really don’t care if they do or don’t look it up.  I have no “pride or shame” left about it.  I have no need anymore to prove anything to myself or others.  I have no need to achieve more than what God wants to allow.  And I have no need for outside encouragement anymore because I know that God knows that I did my best.  And that's good enough for me.  I have nothing left to lose because I have come to terms with God's right to do nothing with it, if He so chooses.  I have fully relinquished my efforts and my dreams into His hands.  And I trust Him.
            I actually found myself wondering the other day if my efforts would ever succeed or make a difference.  Or would I always feel set-aside by God and like I failed?  I imagined God someday saying, "Today is the day that I bless your efforts.  Today is the day things change for you."  But instead of wanting that to happen, I found myself saying, "Lord, no.  I am not ready for success or to have my prayers answered the way I wanted.  I haven't yet learned to find the sweetness that comes with not getting what I want.  I want to embrace the blessings that come with no and not yet.  I am not ready to leave this place of feeling like a failure yet.  There is still so much I need to learn.  Let me stay here for awhile and learn to find the good in it.  Let me learn to praise You for it, not just in it.  Let me find and savor the sweetness of it."  And I was filled with such peace and joy.  I was bursting with gratitude and adoration.  And I had no need to run from the trials or to find something to satisfy my longings.  God was enough for me.  Sweet indeed!  
            And even if no one else ever reads what I write, I am just so thankful for the experience of writing it all out and for the growth and encouragement it has brought me.  And it will be there for my children when they get older, to help them know more about me and to help grow their faith. 
            Nothing to prove, no need to achieve more than God allows, no need to have my ego stroked, nothing more to lose because I have fully given my dreams to God, and thankfulness for the blessings that are there and for His presence, even in the heartache and "unanswered" prayer . . . a sure recipe for peace and contentment!  I have been wanting to get to this point for years.  And it feels good to finally be here.  What freedom!   
            4.  I have decided to look at this next year as a year to just “be.”  I am not going to go into it with any plans of my own, other than to tackle each daily job to the best of my ability and for God’s glory.  I want to wash dishes for God’s glory.  I want to make meals for God’s glory.  I want to read with my kids for God’s glory.  I want to love my husband for God’s glory.  And I want to soak up all of these things as gifts from God.  I don’t need to make anything special out of this year; I just need to see each day as a special gift from God, each day as a blessing to be inhaled and savored.  The best blessings are found when we learn to embrace and cherish the small, everyday things. 
            5.  I have struggled for a while with feeling like I do “selfish” things, like gardening.  Gardening has always been a deep pleasure of mine, but lately I have been feeling guilty about it, like I don’t deserve to do it because I have so many other things to do and things that I can’t get around to doing and things that I fail at.  How can I possibly let myself do something as selfish and self-pleasing as gardening?  I don’t deserve that kind of pleasure! 
            Well, just the other day it hit me that I felt so guilty about gardening because I failed to embrace it as one more way to glorify God.  But what if I didn’t just see it as a selfish thing that I do for myself?  What if I embraced it in thankfulness and with a heart that seeks to do my best at it because doing my best at it in thankfulness is glorifying to God? 
            I think that sometimes it doesn’t matter what we are doing or what pursuit we have as long as we do it with a thankful heart that wants to glorify God.  If we do this with almost any pursuit, it becomes a “God thing,” a spiritual experience, pleasing to the Lord.  And so this year, I am allowing myself to make gardening a spiritual, God-glorifying experience.  (I think I also came to this realization last year, but how soon I forget and feel guilty again and have to learn these lessons all over again!  Thank You, Lord, for Your patience with me!) 
            6.  I have decided that I am going to practice “being still” before the Lord.  A huge goal of mine this year.  I want to share my requests and concerns with Him, but more than that I just want to rest in Him, no matter what comes my way.  One of the hardest, yet most humbling and comforting, things to learn.
            Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”
            7.  And part of this goal is quieting my heart before Him to listen and to absorb Him (even while waiting on Him for answers or direction), instead of always asking and demanding and doubting and fearing. 
            In fact, I have decided as part of “being still” to make this a year of listening.  A couple years ago, I wrote something called “250 Questions to Ask God.”  And it’s something that I haven’t been able to get to yet but have always wanted to.  And so, I have decided to start at the beginning and go through the whole list as this year’s spiritual project. 
            And the other day, I asked God the first question.  I had no idea that the first answer I got would completely shake me out of my funk.  But it did!  It snapped me right out of the spiritual depression I have been in. 
            The first question is “How do I view myself really?  And how do You view me?” 
            After writing down how I saw myself (a failure who doesn’t really matter and has nothing to offer), I asked God how He saw me.  And I’ll admit that I really didn’t want to hear Bible-blah-blah-blah about how He sees me as “dearly loved” and “special to Him” and things like that.  In fact, I hesitated to ask the question because I didn’t want a pat answer.  I didn’t want to hear things my head already knows. 
            But He surprised me, because what He said (later in the day when I wasn’t expecting it) was , “Let not your heart be troubled.”
            And I knew it was the verse about “Do not let your heart be troubled, do not be afraid.”  And so I looked it up.  In John 14:1-27.  And it was as though God was telling me that He viewed me as a troubled soul.  He was aware of all my troubles and how afraid I am in life of everything.  He was cutting to the truth of who I am daily. 
            For years, I feel like I have been crying out to be noticed, to just be seen.  I have always felt so invisible.  And yes, I have always been afraid that I’ll never be good enough.  But just knowing that He noticed me, that He noticed all the struggle I go through, and that He confronted me about my anxious spirit, telling me exactly the thing I needed to focus on (not being troubled or afraid), made me feel His presence and peace in a way that hearing “You are deeply loved” never could.  (Although, there are times I need to hear that, too.  Just not now.) 
            I didn’t need a pat answer or to be coddled.  I just needed to know that He saw me in my pain.  That He was there with me in it.  He didn’t even promise me any kind of success or future blessings or anything, He just basically said, “Don’t be troubled or afraid.”  And when He says this, it’s more like He’s saying, “There is no need to be troubled or afraid because I am here with you.  I’ve got it all in My hands.” 
            In fact, through those verses, He also reminded me that He is always with me because the Holy Spirit has been sent to live in every believer as a Counselor and Comforter.  Such a simple truth that I needed to learn all over again.  I am never alone when I am troubled and afraid and calling out to Him.  And I am not calling out to a distant God, asking Him to notice me or help me or care about me.  When I am calling out, He is right there in the room with me, even if He is incredibly silent.  The Holy Spirit inside me.  He couldn’t be any closer.  What a reminder that we are never alone, even in the silence and pain.  (In fact, not only is the Spirit sitting there with us as we call out to God, but He is actually praying with us, too, taking our prayers and polishing them up for God.  Romans 8:26.) 
            I tell ya, just getting this one answer set my heart at peace and freed me up to feel God’s goodness and love and joy once again.  Even when He is quiet, He’s still with me.  A great start to my New Year.  I would have missed out on this wonderful answer had I never thought to ask the question.  My goal this year: to work through all of the 250 questions (which will take more like 3-4 years because the answers don’t always come quickly or come at all).  But even if I don’t get another answer this year, this first one is really all the help I needed right now.  What a blessing!
            (If you are interested, I posted the “250 Questions” in December 2014.  Give it a try yourself and see what God tells you.)   

            Anyway, I was taking a walk by myself the other day.  (One of my favorite things to do.)  Snow was on the ground but the temperature was mild and warm.  It was the first walk I took in months.  And I thought back to all the walks I took during the previous years.  I remembered how stressed and anxious I was, how I cried out to God for help and answers, how tired I was every day just trying to hang in there and put one foot in front of the other.  My head hurt daily from all the stress.  (I still haven’t been able to get rid of all the “anxious knots” that seemed to have taken up residency in my head.)  And I prayed often, “Lord, just come back, please.  Please just come back!”
            But as I walked the other day on a route that I have walked so many times before, I listened to a few birds in the trees and felt the cool, moist air on my cheeks and enjoyed the simple pleasures of God’s creation, even stopping a moment to watch a hawk chase a squirrel while the crows chanted “Fight, fight , fight” in the trees above.  (It may have been “Caw, caw,” but it sure sounded like “Fight, fight, fight” to me.)  And I finally felt like I was just where I needed to be.  I was here.  I was now.  And God was with me.  And that’s good enough for me. 
            And I inhaled deeply the fresh air as joy flooded my spirit, and I said out loud to myself, “It’s going to be a good year!”  And I really believe it!